Increasing Heat stress as an occupational health issue

A new report from the European Trade Union Institute is a call to action for preventive management of extreme heat conditions as part of occupational health and safety policies for government and workplaces.  Heatwaves as an occupational hazard: The impact of heat and heatwaves on workers’ health, safety and wellbeing and on social inequalities was released on December 2, and argues that heat impacts go far beyond heat illnesses such as heat stroke, since workers are exposed to other factors of heat stress and also because heat exacerbates other underlying conditions and other occupational hazards. The report includes appendices, for example:  the “Resolution on the need for EU action to protect workers from high temperatures”, adopted at the Executive Committee Meeting of the European Trade Union Confederation in December 2018, (pages 60-61) and “An agreement for a company action plan” (page 62-65), a detailed guide for developing workplace action plans, to be developed in cooperation with companies, workers, and workplace representatives.   

Although the ETUI report includes summary statistics about occupational heat stress, the latest facts and statistics about all the health impacts of climate change appear in the 2021 edition of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, released in October just before COP26.  Amongst the highlighted findings: Indicator 1.1.3: the past four decades saw an increase in the number of hours in which temperatures were too high for safe outdoor exercise; Indicator 1.1.4: “In a rising trend since at least 1990, 295 billion hours of potential work were lost across the globe in 2020 due to heat exposure—ie, the equivalent to 88 work hours per employed person.” (Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India had the greatest losses – with the equivalent to 216–261 hours lost per employed person in 2020).  Indicator 4.1.3 discusses  loss of earnings from heat-related labour capacity reduction, finding that that the impact on workers’ earnings is significant, both for the worker and for the GDP of countries.

The Lancet Countdown report analyses all health impacts, including extreme weather events, forest fires, vector-borne diseases etc. and overall, concludes that  “As with COVID-19, the health impacts of climate change are inequitable, with disproportionate effects on the most susceptible populations in every society, including people with low incomes, members of minority groups, women, children, older adults, people with chronic diseases and disabilities, and outdoor workers.”  It provides sophisticated data analysis on  44 indicators, organised in five “domains”: climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerabilities; adaptation, planning, and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; economics and finance; and public and political engagement.

Trade unions in the U.K. actively engaged in climate change policy, advocating for environmental representatives

Trade Unions in the UK: Engagement with climate change is a new report, based on research conducted between September 2016 and January 2017 by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group . The report asks:  what are the driving forces behind trade union engagement in climate change issues, and what are some of the barriers and difficulties for trade unions?  It summarizes the results of interviews with policy officers and environmental activists from the largest 15 unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), as well as two smaller but active unions: Transport and Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU). The report is also based on the results of systematic searches of the unions’ websites and relevant policy documents (with links to key documents).  It reveals an overview of the diversity and context of trade union climate policy, focusing on issues such as environmental representatives, energy supply, airport expansion, fracking and divestment from fossil fuels. The report summarizes the positions on these issues, union by union, but for those who want even more detail, there is a supplementary inventory .

This first-ever report was released in August 2017, and since then, Unison has voted to campaign for pension fund divestment and the TUC adopted an historic motion for public ownership of energy at its September Congress.  Also at the Fringe Meeting of the September Congress, the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group presented its discussion paper  ‘Another world is possible: jobs and a safe climate‘. And most recently, the U.K. government at long last released its Clean Growth Strategy, to limited union approval.

 

New green jobs policy adopted at the Canadian Labour Congress Convention-Updated with link to Policy document

clc-logoThe 28th Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress was held in Toronto from May 8 to 12, 2017  under the theme “Together for a Fair Future”.  The agenda was packed – including  equity issues, younger workers, putting an end to precarious work, and the fight to implement a $15 minimum wage. Executive officers were elected, and Hassan Yussuff was acclaimed as President for a second mandate – all serving  from 2017 to 2020. On May 10th, the Convention addressed the issue of climate change, and heard from a Green Jobs Panel, consisting of  Sharan Burrow of the ITUC, Sheila Watt-Cloutier from Inuit Circumpolar Council, Matt Wayland of the IBEW, and Patrick Rondeau of the FTQ, with Rick Smith of the Broadbent Institute moderating.  Although no documents have been posted to the CLC website yet, a Unifor press release states:  ” … As one of the greatest challenges facing workers in Canada the Convention adopted a plan, outlined in the Green Jobs for a Fair Future policy, to guide the country through a necessary just transition to a green economy.  Unifor’s delegation voted overwhelmingly to support the position paper and delegates pledged to take action for just transition…The policy paper calls on the CLC to lobby and work towards green jobs in home and building retrofits, expand public transit, ensure responsible resource development, and at the core, just transition for workers whose lives are already dramatically changed by climate change.”

Updated on May 29:  By permission of the CLC, the 20-page policy statement is available here at the ACW Digital Library.  It lays out detailed proposals and establishes a Climate Change Task Force to carry the initiatives forward until 2020, with extensive lobbying for policy changes at the federal government level. Proposals include expansion of renewable energy, building retrofits, expanded transportation and transit infrastructure, and labour market policies to promote a Just Transition for workers and communities who are affected by the shift from oil and gas to clean energy. The document also announces an initiative for the CLC and local labour councils to create and train a network of environmental representatives at the workplace level, based on the occupational health and safety model.